Chains to Slavery at Ingestre Hall

Atop a Staffordshire Hill, surrounded by formal gardens and complete with two sets of stables, swimming pool, tennis courts, orangery and chapel, at its peak Ingestre Hall had all the grandeur associated with a house that spent centuries at the centre of British power.

I came to Ingestre to help organise a conference for UK climate activists. As I was exploring the house ready for participants’ arrival I dug a little into the history of the place, and was shocked and unsettled to find out about its deep connections to the horrors of the British slavery.

The story of Ingestre is the story of two great families, the Chetwynds and the Talbots. Both amassed great wealth: from farming the Staffordshire countryside, from tenants, from the coal mines of Cannock Chase, and also slave plantations.

For the Talbot family the central figure in the history of Ingestre Hall is Charles, the 2nd Earl. His takeover of Ingestre in 1793 added the house to his considerable collection of estates (his son would later inherit the palatial Alton Towers, twenty miles to north).

The Talbots were at the centre of British wealth and power. In 1808 Charles employed the pre-eminent royal architect of his day, John Nash, to rebuild Ingestre. You can get a sense of just how high in society the family were when you consider a few of Nash’s other commissions: Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Brighton Pavillion. Interior designs for Talbot’s homes are still held by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Charles was variously a diplomat, an MP and a Lord and in 1817 King George III appointed him Viceroy of Ireland.

To rise to the peak of British society meant having a stake in British colonialism. At the turn of 19th century that meant the slave trade, and Charles was no exception.

Charles Talbot inherited two Jamaican sugar plantations upon the death of his brother-in-law Sir Rose Price of Madron, Cornwall.

His inheritance included a share in 543 people, enslaved at Worthy Park and Mickleton Pen plantations, Jamaica. The will records “39 enslaved people whom [Price] had bought for Worthy Park between 1797 and 1807, together with their 22 surviving progeny; by name, the 115 enslaved people he had bought from Arthur’s Seat in 1830 plus further 12 bought subsequently; and a number of musical instruments and books.” At the time of abolition both estates had been producing sugar for around a century or more, raising considerable funds for their distant owners.

We only know these details because the estates were assessed for the purposes of compensation by the British Government. The Talbots were paid £4,660, equivalent of £3.4 million today, for the loss of their slaves in Jamaica.

Before the Talbots, Ingestre was the seat of the Chetwynds, and they too had a major stakes in Jamaican slavery. As a daughter without brothers, Charles Talbot’s Grandmother Catherine inherited Ingestre, but she could not inherit the title of Viscount Chetwynd. And so the family title passed to her uncle, without the attached estates. Denied their family seat the Viscounts Chetwynd therefore sought wealth across the British Empire.

Granville Chetwynd-Stapylton (Snr), son of the 4th Viscount, was the field commander at the Battle of Saintfield, the first major conflict of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and later appointed Paymaster to the Royal Marines.

Granville’s son was a colonial surveyor, charting new corners of Australia ready for their appropriation by British settlers. He was initially commended for his work but after 12 years in Australia he was imprisoned for multiple instances of being drunk on duty and killed by Aboriginal people in 1840.After attending Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, one Munbee Goulburn married Susannah Chetwynd, Granville Snr’s daughter, in 1782. Munbee was a planter and enslaver, owning slave estates in Amity Hall and Bogue, Jamaica, during the period of the Second Maroon War. After living a “profligate life” his debts saw his wife being jailed in Chancery, a debtors’ prison, in London. The records suggest however that she managed to cling on to her slave estates, and left them to her son Henry.

Henry Goulburn, grandson of the 4th Viscount Chetwynd, inherited Jamaican slave plantations from his parents. He managed these plantations himself from 1805, when he was just 21. An eminent politician Henry eventually became Chancellor of the Exchequer, serving in two periods: 1828 to 1830 and 1841 to 1846. He had previously been Home Secretary and Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, administering the Empire for the British Government. Henry was influential enough there to secure his brother the job of Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, Australia (before he was fired for incompetence) and to see a city named for him: Goulburn, New South Wales. 

Henry swapped seats in the House of Commons four times, representing parts of the East of England, Ireland and two rotten boroughs. It is a measure of the cosiness of the British elite that when he resigned his Irish seat in 1831 he passed it on to the 2nd Earl Talbot of Ingestre, his distant cousin.

Over in Jamaica, the enslaved workers at his estate of Amity Hall organised to pursue their freedom and were highly effective at making the system unworkable. This was a key factor that led to abolition, but it also left its mark on Henry’s political career when stories of this resistance at Goulburn’s estate of Amity Hall, which included a slave strike in 1826, reached the British press during his campaign for election at Cambridge.

He won, narrowly, and subsequently doubled down on his defence of his Jamaican slave plantations: in 1833 he proposed to the House of Commons a petition from the City of London signed by “1,800 persons, all of them of the highest respectability” protesting the abolition of slavery. He told Parliament that the petitioners “protested against a measure which deprived them of their property without making them any compensation” and asked: “would [the Speaker] inform the House whether Liverpool, Bristol, even London itself, had not risen to importance in consequence of the advantages they had derived from the colonial trade?”.Two months later the historic Slavery Abolition Act was passed and the petitioners got their way: British enslavers received £20 million of compensation, a vast fortune at the time. Among the recipients of this payout was Henry Goulburn himself: the British Government paid him £5,601 for the lives of 326 enslaved people in Jamaica.

120 years later in the 1950s the Earls Talbot sold Ingestre Hall to the local council, but Ingestre has never lost its connection with its founding families.

Ingestre remains a shrine to the Chetwynds and Talbots. Portraits of their proudest sons and daughters, including several of the slave-owning 2nd Earl, adorn the grand hall, dining room and grand staircases. The upper floors are not called the 1st and 2nd floor: they are named for the two families. 

What you won’t find in Ingestre Hall is any mention of these families’ links to slavery. Nor do the words ‘Slavery’ or ‘Jamaica’ appear in the 142 page ‘Short History of Ingestre’, published in 2013.* 

Over the centuries the Chetwynds’ status appears to have waned but not so the Talbots, who still hold significant wealth and political power. As well as managing his considerable family fortune the current Earl Talbot, also Charles, is an elected hereditary peer in the House of Lords, serving as a whip for the Conservative Party. A banker by trade he remains politically active: according to Wikipedia he lobbies to protect shooting for sport as President of the Gun Trade Association and Deputy-Chairman of the Standing Conference on Country Sports. In August 2022 he was under investigation by the House of Lords standards commissioner for impropriety regarding a £3,000 a month payment he was receiving from a healthcare firm.

The Chetwynds’ and the Talbots’ connections to slavery are not at all atypical of those families which were and are at the top of British society. In this respect, I was naive to be to surprised by Ingestre’s chains to slavery. But acknowledging that much of British history is mired in pain is not an excuse for leaving that history uncovered. The Talbot family and their distant cousins the Chetwynds have never publicly acknowledged, or sought to recompense the money they made from chattel slavery. Their role is buried in historical records.

In Jamaica, the home of the Chetwynd and Talbot’s slaving enterprises, slavery is not a distant memory, it’s a contemporary political issue.

600,000 people were taken and enslaved to Jamaica alone, primarily aboard British ships. To recognise this crime, Jamaica is now seeking reparations from the UK of £7.6 billion, equivalent to the amount of compensation paid to families like the Talbots and Chetwynds back in 1834.

Upon independence from the UK Jamaica retained the Queen as Head of State, but this arcane connection is now on notice.

The first mass export of slaves was carried out by the Royal Family’s private company, the Royal African Company, who transported 188,000 slaves from Africa, 38,497 of whom died during the voyage. Carolyn Cooper, an author and professor at the University of West Indies says: “The British monarchy represents a racist, genocidal, rapacious politics. They represent the worst of our history… The decolonisation process is not complete as long as the head of state is the monarch of England.”

In 1907 King Edward posed for a photo with the Talbot family on the steps of Ingestre Hall, reaffirming the tight bonds between the British ruling classes. These bonds still shape much of contemporary political life in Britain, and abroad. This history of Ingestre Hall and Jamaican slavery should be a stark reminder that not enough has changed to right the wrongs of British history.

End notes

*The author of ‘A Short History of Ingestre’, Anne Andrews, passed away in 2020 and was recognised for her community work and contributions to local history. I hope, as a historian, she would appreciate this unofficial extra chapter to her otherwise excellent book.

Note on the text: This history was compiled after a work trip to Ingestre in September 2022, where upon learning of Ingestre’s links to slavery, we held several investigative tours of the building’s art works. I’m indebted to all the council’s staff for looking after us so well during our stay.

Further reading

A Short History of Ingestre – Anne Andrews

Jamaica plans to seek reparations from Britain over slavery – Reuters

‘Moment of reckoning’: Queen’s death fuels Jamaica’s republican movement – The Guardian

Legacies of British Slavery project – University College London

Resistance and Rebellion – Understanding Slavery Initiative

The Goulburn Papers: Slavery in Jamaica, Records from a Family of Slave Owners, 1686-1860 – British Archives Online







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